Researchers from Yale University are working on a drug that reduces the effect of alcohol on the brain, with the aim of helping heavy drinkers and alcoholics wean off alcohol. The pill could also have a major effect on social drinking.
Though still in an experimental stage, the drug iomazenil has been found to weaken some of the effects of alcohol on the brain if it is taken before a drinking session. In a pilot study comparing reaction times, drivers who had taken iomazenil before drinking braked more quickly than those who had imbibed the same amount of alcohol without first taking the stay-sober pill.
The Daily Telegraph reports researcher Deepak DSouza, a psychiatrist, as saying, "A medication that has the potential to block alcohol actions in the central nervous system could act as a unique medication in the treatment of alcohol intoxication and alcoholism. Alcohol is abused commonly but there is no remedy for alcohol intoxication."
However, while the development of such a drug may seem like a good thing, concern is already being raised about the wisdom of using iomazenil, itself a highly addictive drug when used over the long term. Iomazenil is a benzodiazepine, which, according to a report by Professor C Heather Ashton of The Royal Victoria Infirmary School of Neurology, Neurobiology and Psychiatry, can quickly become addictive and the withdrawal symptoms are similar to that of alcohol. They have also been linked to likely causes of traffic accidents.
In other studies, the drug naloxone has been found to reduce the symptoms of intoxication in mice. It is already being used to counter the effects of heroine or morphine overdoses. According to the Telegraph report, it may be available to the public within 18 months. One drawback in this case is that it also takes the pleasure out of drinking, so the urge to imbibe alcohol would be taken away; something that the alcohol industry is unlikely to be happy about.
The potential value of such drugs from health and social perspectives is huge. The Independent cites the fact that in the UK alone, in 2010, there were 8790 alcohol related deaths.